How Constantly Proving Your Worth Affects Your Health

Updated: Apr 12


There once was a time in life when proving my worth was all I really knew. It was even what I’d go so far to claim as complete “normalcy”.


Proving my worth was first bred and born as an elite athlete, but with time and real commitment, it made its greatest debut when I shifted into careerhood.


Like most, when I realized I couldn’t/wouldn’t be an athlete my entire life, I was forced to mold into the next best fitting box. In a musty, sea-sprayed counseling office off the shore of North Carolina I was encouraged to answer this one-off question in under half an hour - “what do you want to do with your entire life?”


I always knew that I wanted to help others holistically and intentionally, but at 18 years old I didn’t know what that meant for me or where I belonged. In due time (all 30 minutes of it), I decided on nursing.


I did great in nursing school. Exceptionally great. I was a 4.0 student, a student nurse ambassador, a tutoring chair officer, and always found the time to commit my energy to new projects. Following school, I took my first job in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit.


But much to my dismay, I felt wildly misaligned in the nursing profession. From my very first day in the bright white hall of the hospital - the sterility singing the hairs in my nose - I knew it wasn’t the space I was destined to occupy.


Except that in my mind, it had to be. Societal constructs told me that this was the heroic path. The noble, courageous, and ultimately selfless path. This was success by nearly every definition I had known. Not to mention - I moved to the middle of the Arizona desert with my cat and threw down $80,000 for the dream.


This was it. I had made it… hadn’t I?


But I struggled with the work I did. Not because I was a bad nurse. I was a very GOOD nurse.

But between a delirious nightshift schedule and the moral misalignment I felt in the work I did to keep children alive, I suffered. My relationships crumbled, my eating habits deteriorated, sleep was nonexistent, and meeting movement felt like I was knee’s deep in a concrete mixer. And one single statement ran rampant in my mind at all hours of the day, “you were made for more”.


Eventually, my mental and emotional turmoil manifested physically. This time, I found myself the patient in the system. Weird and tumultuous things began happening in my body. My gallbladder and appendix required emergency surgeries. I visited the ER on multiple occasions for ruptured ovarian cysts. I began having chest pain and dizzy spells during work. I woke every day, and laid my head to rest every night, with a debilitating migraine. And one random day, I woke with pelvic pain that rocked my world. I saw specialist after specialist, got scan after scan, and continued onto one medication after another even though the “underlying cause was unclear”.


Except, it wasn’t. It wasn’t unclear at all. It was so clear, I’d even go as far as labeling it “crystal”.


Here’s what we know happens to a body under persistent stress:


The body recognizes persistent stress as a threat and activates the sympathetic system. Our ancestors were required to navigate extreme situations with the environment, their society, and active predators. Because of this, over time our bodies developed the ability to shift from rest-and-digest (parasympathetic) to fight-or-flight (sympathetic) on a dime. Even though we encounter much different stress now, our body still perceives it the same.


Being in a sympathetic state is helpful… until it’s harmful

We can’t be chill as a cucumber all the time or we’d also be in grave danger. Our sympathetic system is incredibly healthy and required. Until it isn’t. By staying in fight-or-flight, your body is overloaded with the hormone, cortisol. In excess, and over significant periods of time, cortisol creates wear and tear on the body - even down to the cellular level, deteriorating the protective caps on your DNA (known as telomeres), and wreaking havoc on your bodies optimal functioning.


My body's persistent stress?


Constantly proving my worth.


My mind and my spirit - they begged of me to give up the meet-and-greet with societal constructs and step into my heart's work.


They cried out for my freedom in who I was really meant to be, and how I was made to show up in the world.


But I wasn’t listening.

I was too busy proving.


The only option then was to bring the inner turmoil, external - to make me physically feel and see that proving my worth was far more detrimental than embodying my worth.


Eventually, I was met with two choices for my pain. I could try a newly researched drug that cost $4,000 out of pocket, suppressed my ovarian function, and required multiple medications to manage the side effects, or I could go back to surgery for “further exploration and diagnosis”.


I chose neither.

That day, I chose me.

I chose living in my worth, and letting go of the rat-race I thought made me worthy.


My doctor thought the treatment plan was odd.

But I didn’t care.

I was committed to showing up for myself.


As the success story goes, I quit my job on the spot. I spent the next three painfully dark and confusing months learning how to shower my mind, my body, and my spirit with loving-kindness. I learned what true self-acceptance, self-compassion, and self-trust looked and felt like. I dove into healing modalities including talk therapy, journal therapy, meditation, embodied movement, and re-ignited the stagnant, pushed-aside creativity that lived within me and yearned for attention. I met myself every day and asked, “who am I and what is my purpose here”. Within three months, I had tapered off of all medications, and my pain was all but non-existent. I could sleep again, move again, eat again, and laugh again. I could breathe again. One of my very closest friends explained it better than I ever could when she said, “your light is back, we’ve missed it so much.”


You see, my friend. You are light, too. You were made to SHINE. You were given this existence with your heart's work embedded. Your heart’s work doesn’t require proving. It doesn’t require fighting. It doesn’t require conforming. It doesn’t require sacrificing what lights your soul on fire. In fact, it requires finally choosing to prioritize what does.


If you’re feeling stuck, lost, overwhelmed, underwhelmed, exhausted, debilitated, and by societies standards have done it all “right”...


I encourage you to take a deeper look.

I encourage you to stop writing signals off as symptoms.

I encourage you to ask yourself, “am I spending more time proving my worth, than I am embodying it”.


I leave you here, with this profound quote from Jaiya John -


“What am I here for?” Ask yourself this question every day of your life.”


Rooting for you, always.


Heather

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